Hartford School District seeking firm to find replacement for longtime superintendent

Hartford superintendent Tom DeBalsi listens to the discussion during the joint town and school meeting in White River Junction, Vt., on March 29, 2014. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Hartford superintendent Tom DeBalsi listens to the discussion during the joint town and school meeting in White River Junction, Vt., on March 29, 2014. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

By NORA DOYLE-BURR

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 10-27-2023 3:57 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — The Hartford School District has issued a request for proposals for a firm to lead the district’s search for a new superintendent.

Current Superintendent Tom DeBalsi, who has led the district for 13 years, has informed the School Board he plans to retire at the end of the 2024-25 school year.

The board decided to launch the search now in hopes of finding a replacement a year early, “providing for a full year of planned transition and continuity,” according to the request for proposals included in the School Board’s packet for its Oct. 10 meeting.

“This will allow for the successes of the last 13 years to be acknowledged and time for the new superintendent to thoughtfully transition into the position,” the RFP said of launching the search now. “In the current public school environment, Hartford is looking to stand apart from others and offer a plan for the success of its new top administrator.”

DeBalsi said via email on Wednesday that he was too busy to speak with a reporter and had not provided anything in writing about his retirement to the School Board. He did confirm his intent to retire in June 2025.

School Board Chairman Kevin “Coach” Christie said the board is “looking for our next leader to be able to step into and take us into the next decade with some imagination and vision.”

He said the long transition time will allow for some overlap in the end of DeBalsi’s tenure with the new leader’s beginning. The board, DeBalsi and the new hire will have to sort out who is serving as superintendent when and “who is acting as more of a consultant with specific expectations,” Christie said.

“It isn’t usually done, but because of everything we’ve done so far, it’s really important that we don’t lose that continuity,” Christie said. It’s “going to take the right person to be able to see that and be able to work in that context.”

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DeBalsi, who is originally from Cranston, R.I., has worked in education in the Upper Valley since 1990. He came to Hartford in July 2011, following about 10 years with what was then the Windsor Central Supervisory Union, which serves Woodstock-area towns. He previously worked for the Mascoma Valley Regional School District, working his way up from special education teacher to director of special services.

According to Valley News reporting at the time, the Hartford School Board selected DeBalsi for his strong communication skills. He arrived in Hartford amid budget challenges, contentious school consolidation discussions and reports of poor staff morale.

Christie, a state representative who also was the School Board’s chairman when DeBalsi was first hired, said the Hartford School District is unusually complex. In addition to three elementary schools, a middle school, a high school and the Hartford Area Career and Technology Center, it also includes three regional programs: the Regional Alternative Program, the Hartford Autism Regional Program and the Regional Resource Center.

“It is a unique situation,” Christie said. If you “look around the rest of the state and into New Hampshire, there’s only a small subset of schools that have that level of responsibility.”

Speaking of the regional programs, Christie said, “it’s pretty cool in a sense because it’s collaborative, but at the same time the host administrator has to kind of balance all of that. It’s not a regular school district.”

The district has an annual budget of roughly $47 million and serves about 1,850 students. DeBalsi’s salary in 2019-20 was $165,589, according to the Vermont Agency of Education.

In the district’s next leader, Christie said he hopes to find an educator with a strong academic background, with experience supporting students’ social and emotional needs, as well as students with special needs. The next leader should have a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, he said.

“Our district draws on so many different communities in the Upper Valley, not just Hartford,” Christie said. It has “a high attraction rate,” he said, which he attributes to its paradigm of “trying to be as welcoming as possible” and of “being understanding of student needs and how they’re changing.”

Leadership of several Upper Valley school districts has changed in recent years. Lebanon’s new Superintendent Amy Allen started this summer. Earlier this year, Christine Bourne became permanent superintendent of the Windsor Southeast Supervisory Union. Orange East Supervisory Union Superintendent Randy Gawel is in his second year.

The search firm proposals are due by Monday at 4 p.m. and the awardee will be notified by Nov. 15. Firms are required to have a track record of successful searches, knowledge of where to post the position for maximum benefit and the ability to structure the process and organize the search to create the best applicant pool.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.